Anne Spencer

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For other people named Anne Spencer, see Anne Spencer (disambiguation).
Anne Spencer
Anne Bethel Spencer in her wedding dress.jpg
Anne Bethel Spencer in her wedding dress, 1900
Born Annie Bethel Bannister
(1882-02-06)February 6, 1882
Henry County, Virginia
Died July 27, 1975(1975-07-27)
Lynchburg, Virginia
Alma mater Virginia Seminary
Genre poetry
Literary movement Harlem Renaissance

Annie Bethel Spencer (better known as Anne Spencer) (February 6, 1882, Henry County, Virginia – July 27, 1975, Lynchburg, Virginia) was an American poet and active participant in the New Negro Movement and Harlem Renaissance period.

Spencer was the first Virginian and first African-American to have her poetry included in the Norton Anthology of American Poetry. Also an activist for equality and educational opportunities for all, she hosted such dignitaries as Langston Hughes, Marian Anderson, George Washington Carver, Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James Weldon Johnson, and W. E. B. Du Bois.



The only child of Joel Cephus Bannister and Sarah Louise Scales, Anne Spencer was born Annie Bethel Bannister in Henry County, Virginia on February 6, 1882. Her parents separated while Annie was very young, and she moved with her mother to West Virginia. There she was placed under the care of William T. Dixie, a prominent member of the black community. Sarah noticed her daughter's quick abilities with the English language and sent her to the Virginia Seminary, where she graduated in 1899. Also in this year, she met her husband, Charles Edward Spencer, whom she married on May 15, 1901.[citation needed] The couple had three children together — Bethel, Alroy, and Chauncey Spencer.

In 1903, the family moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, where Spencer remained until her death in 1975.

Literary life[edit]

As an adult, Spencer's poetry grew in popularity and meaning. The celebrated Harlem Renaissance poet James Weldon Johnson helped to discover Annie's talent as a poet, and also gave her the pen name of Anne Spencer.[1] The Harlem Renaissance allowed her to meet people like herself, who inspired her poetry through their ideas and artwork and eventually led to her work being published. Johnson and W. E. B. Du Bois were regular visitors at her house and would often spend the day in deep conversation discussing everything from art to politics. They all shared similar likes and dislikes and were all strong, independent thinkers.

Spencer became more and more involved in her local community and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). A local chapter of the NAACP was founded from her home in 1919.[2]

Although most of her poems remain reflections of her own ideas and thoughts, hints of influence from her work with the Harlem Renaissance began to show. Spencer also tutored Ota Benga, a Congolese pygmy, in English during his stay in Lynchburg. Spencer was included in the 1923 edition of the Norton Anthology of Literature by Women.


View of study, Anne Spencer House, Lynchburg, Virginia

The Lynchburg home in which Anne Spencer lived and worked is now a museum, Anne Spencer House. A garden and a one-room retreat, where Anne did much of her writing, are also part of the property. Some of her papers are held at the museum[3][4] Additionally, some of her other papers, related family papers, and books from her personal library reside at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. Further letters are held at Yale University.

Among her most influential works was "White Things", though it was not republished in her lifetime after its initial appearance in The Crisis. Nevertheless, its impact was such that Keith Clark, in Notable Black American Women, referred to it as "the quintessential 'protest' poem."[5]

Further reading[edit]

  • Times Unfading Garden: Anne Spencer’s Life and Poetry (1977).
  • Afro-American Women Writers 1746-1933: An Anthology and Critical Guide (1989) Shockley, Ann Allen, New Haven, Connecticut: Meridian Books ISBN 0-452-00981-2
  • With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman, Thurman, Howard. Chicago:Harvest/HBJ Book, 1981. ISBN 0-15-697648-X
  • Anne Spencer: Ah, how poets sing and die!, Spencer, Anne. Ed. Nina V. Salmon. Lynchburg: Warwick House Publishing, 2001
  • Shadowed Dreams: Women's Poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, Rutgers; 2 Rev Exp edition (October 25, 2006). ISBN 0-8135-3886-6


External links[edit]